The brilliant tones and its perfectly formed shape set this flowerpot apart as one of the most vibrant examples of its type. The fascination with Jun wares is its glaze, artfully applied over simple forms to accentuate the nuances of the thickly applied colour. It belongs to a group of flower receptacles that were created in mould-made shapes before coated in striking tones of blue and purple and the base inscribed with a number between one and ten. These vessels remained highly valued from the time of their production onwards as evidenced in their appearance in Qing imperial paintings, including one of the famous Twelve Beauties at Leisure Painted for Prince Yinzhen, the Future Yongzheng Emperor, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, included in the exhibition China. The Three Emperors 1662-1795, The Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2005, cat. no. 173. Painted for the Yongzheng Emperor when he was Prince Yinzhen during the reign of his father, Kangxi, the scene contains a similar purple-splashed flowerpot resting on a windowsill in the lady’s chamber.
A related flowerpot inscribed with the same number san (three) is illustrated in A Panorama of Ceramics in the Collection of the National Palace Museum. Chun Ware, Taipei, 1999, pl. 22, together with two of different colour, one with the numeral wu (five), pl. 23, and the other with the numeral qi (seven), pl. 24. Compare also two flowerpots of this type, from the Qing Court collection and still in Beijing, published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Porcelain of the Song Dynasty (I), Hong Kong, 1996, pls. 15 and 16; one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, included in Oriental Ceramics. The World’s Great Collections, vol. 11, Tokyo, 1982, pl. 67; and a fourth flowerpot published in R.L. Hobson, The George Eumorfopoulos Collection Catalogue of Chinese, Corean and Persian Pottery and Porcelain, vol. 3, London, 1926, pl. III, no. C16, sold in our London rooms, 29th May 1940, lot 179, and now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Two further flowerpots also inscribed with the numeral san, glazed in shades of purple, from the J. Piermont Morgan collection, formerly in the University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, sold in these rooms, 25th March 1975 lots 224 and 225, and now in the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo.
The dating of ‘Jun’ ware flowerpots of this type has long been debated. Historically, two schools of thought proposed datings to either the Northern Song (12th century) or to the Yuan/early Ming (14th/15th centuries). The Northern Song date was supported by the discovery of a mould fragment for coins inscribed with the Xuanhe reign name (1119-1125), reputedly excavated at the kiln sites together with fragments of ‘numbered Jun’ vessels and said to be made of the same clay. The dating of this coin mould, however, has recently been dismissed at a conference in Shenzhen. An attribution to the early Ming dynasty is therefore now largely accepted for this group of vessels, following stylistic comparisons with jardinières, vases and other flower receptacles in celadon and blue and white from the Longquan and Jingdezhen kilns, which are more precisely datable. Since many of these ‘numbered Jun’ wares are preserved in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, and the Palace Museum, Beijing, from the former Imperial collection and often inscribed with the names of palace halls, these vessels can now be considered as Imperial flower vessels of the Ming court.